NFL running back Jonathan Stewart gives away shoes in downtown Olympia

City Gates Ministries had a little star power on hand to pass out nearly 500 pairs of shoes and socks in downtown Olympia.

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart, along with Samaritan’s Feet, hosted the Shoes of Hope giveaway Thursday evening at the corner of State Avenue and Adams Street — the same corner where City Gates already gathers weekly to provide basic necessities for the less fortunate.

Stewart is a 2005 graduate of Timberline High School and the leading prep career rusher in state history. He went on to play football at the University of Oregon.

Stewart was joined by friends and former teammates to hand out shoes and wash the feet of each recipient. His goal at Thursday’s event was simply to “be in the presence of good people doing good things,” he said.

“Our purpose is to inspire and to serve. I think that’s the meaning of life on earth,” Stewart told The Olympian. “You’re granted this blessing to live. Why not share it?”

Dozens of people lined up early for the shoe giveaway, which began just after 6 p.m. At the front of the line was a mother with three children, and all four needed new shoes.

City Gates Pastor Phil Prietto said that washing the recipients’ feet symbolizes a biblical story in which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples just prior to the Last Supper.

“That was an act of humility,” Prietto said. “In the Bible, Jesus made a statement to his disciples that they needed to become like the least of them.”

Thursday’s partnership between City Gates and Samartian’s Feet was a good fit, Prietto said. So far in 2015, City Gates has given out more than 6,000 pounds of clothes and 5,000 meals, he said.

Every week for the past three and a half years, Ron Langley has manned the City Gates “adult van” that comes stocked with blankets, coats and sleeping bags. These items are always in demand, even in the hot summer, he said. Other high-demand items include men’s jeans and hooded sweatshirts.

“Week after week, we see a lot of the same people,” said Langley, noting that “a lot of these folks never see new shoes. They put a lot of miles on them.”

The weekly event provides an opportunity to change lives and celebrate the spirit of Jesus Christ, he said, noting that everyone who comes to the weekly City Gates gathering gets prayed for.

“We don’t want to proselytize, but we do pray for people,” Langley said. “I’m the one who’s blessed the most.”